Those less familiar with and/or invested in YouTube as an online video-streaming platform may not be aware of the controversy and Drama that has overcast YouTube for several years now. You may have never heard of the hashtag #YouTubIsOverParty (or its various iterations) trending on & off Twitter and making headlines since 2016, nor may you be aware of or understand why YouTube ‘Creators‘ are recently in an uproar over a recent decision on the part of the Federal Trade Commission with regards to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—and that’s okay!
I’m here to
vent give you a brief rundown of why YouTube/Google is the Pink Capitalist Piece of Shit that we all knew it was to begin with but may have forgotten or lost sight of along the way. More specifically, I’m here to highlight the hypocrisy and injustices dealt to YouTube’s LGBTQIA Creators and viewership alike by YouTube as a platform.
※ Table of Contents:
- Pinkwashed: Hashtags, Allyship, & Reality
- Demonetization & Censorship
- FTC & COPPA
※ Pinkwashed: Hashtags, Allyship, & Reality
The premier site of its kind, YouTube has long since been the home of a bustling community of LGBTQIA video makers and the people who watch them. It’s of no surprise, then, that both YouTube (and in turn Google, YouTube’s parent company) would take notice of this and—like so many other conglomerates—capitalize on its LGBTQIA userbase.
Many people these days are at least somewhat familiar with the term “Pink Capitalism”. That is, the targeted inclusion of members of the LGBT (and increasingly, the LGBTQIA) community for the purpose of marketing exploitation.
In other words, while LGBT people were once considered insignificant enough of a minority as to not be worth
acknowledging our existence targeting with marketing or other campaigns, we are now viewed as having enough social clout & purchasing power to warrant explicitly targeting by corporations & businesses—be it in the form of LGBT-specific tourism & wedding services, booths & floats at Prides, or a simple rainbow flag in a shop window to [theoretically] let us know that we are welcome.
While Pink Capitalism is primarily focused on marketing and financial strategies, “Pinkwashing” is broader. Originally used in reference to the commodification of Breast Cancer Awareness efforts, it now commonly describes actions that some companies, people, places, or entities take to leverage a seemingly “pro-LGBT” platform as a means of facilitating their own agenda. FEM, UCLA’s feminist magazine, gives great examples.
Perhaps the most noted example of pinkwashing is Israel’s public relations campaign to promote itself as the “gay mecca” of the Middle East. [ … ] Meanwhile, alt-right spokesman, Milo Yiannopoulos, blamed Muslims for the shooting at Pulse, an Orlando LGBT Nightclub. He exploited the tragedy to promote a racist, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic agenda under apparent concern for “LGBT rights.”“Feminism 101: What is Pinkwashing?” – FEM News Magazine (March 2, 2019)
Imagine, if you will, a politician metaphorically painting herself and her campaign Pink with a rosy shade of pink lacquer in the form of a newly rainbow-hued icon on social media & a tweet endorsing marriage equality. One might think her and her campaign to be supportive of LGBT rights—or at least, that’s what she hopes. No amount of pink lacquer or rainbow-hued icons, however, can actually erase her decades of opposition (or even indifference) to the rights and well-being of LGBTQIA people.
For the past several years, YouTube has celebrated Pride Month in June by giving its red logo a rainbow hue. A lot of companies do this nowadays and YouTube has been doing it at least as far back as 2013. In addition to its rainbow logo, YouTube has regularly unveiled and spotlighted a video featuring LGBT Creators and major LGBT-related news clips from the past year. It does all this in conjunction with a hashtag that is also prominently displayed alongside its rainbow logo across its website.
June 2015 saw the landmark civil rights case in which the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex couple’s fundamental right to marriage. To commemorate the occasion, YouTube decided to revisit the hashtag campaign that it had first launched in 2013: #ProudToLove. Like the corresponding 2013 video, the 2015 video featured a curated collage of news/media clips alongside relevant videos by LGBT Creators and activists on YouTube. Both videos have millions of views and were generally well-received. LGBTQIA Creators across the platform jumped onboard, uploading their own personal #ProudToLove videos and the hashtag itself trended on YouTube as well as Twitter for a time.
Fast forward a year to June 2016.
As you’d guess, YouTube dusted off and revamped its usual rainbow-hued logo and dropped a new video montage. The video, however, debuted later in the month than one’d expect—on June 21st, just over a week after the Pulse shooting, a tragedy that sent the LGBTQIA community reeling. It was also accompanied by a new hashtag: #ProudToBe. [ Top ]
Shifting the focus from pride in who one loves—which noticeably misses the mark when it comes to members of the community for whom the gender of the person(s) they love (if there even is such a person(s)) isn’t the focal point of their Pride—to focusing on one’s Pride in oneself and one’s identity.
However, 2016 was the year in which “shit hit the fan” in so far as the superficial nature of YouTube’s support and commitment to its LGBT Creators becoming readily apparent to more than just Creators ourselves. There was one key difference between past iterations and that difference lies not in the video itself, but in the aftermath of it and the [lack of] action on the part of YouTube.
Within minutes to an hour of the video’s posting, the video had already garnered a disconcerting number of hateful comments and dislikes—to the point that two days later YouTube disabled the comments section of the video.
The disproportionately negative response that the video and hashtag campaign received was due to a coordinated attack on behalf of users on 4chan to dislike and troll not only YouTube’s video, but any and every video uploaded by individual Creators using the same #ProudToBe hashtag.
…including the promotion of violence on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity [… ] Given the number of comments on this video that violate our policy, and out of respect for the creators who appear in this video, we have decided to turn comments off for now.—A YouTube spokesperson via The Daily Beast & FORBES
So disabling the comments section of their own video and calling it a day—doing literally nothing to help Creators weather the storm of hate that spilled over from YouTube’s video to individual Creator’s videos during a time when many of the Creators in the targeted community were still reeling from recent events…? For YouTube to say that they disabled comments on their video out of respect for the Creators in it while doing nothing to enforce bannable offenses under their policy was and is added insult to injury.
But of course, the disastrous aftermath of the 2016 #ProudToBe campaign or even subsequent callouts, petitions, or a lawsuit on the part of LGBTQIA Creators would discourage YouTube from continuing on with its pinkwashed capitalism for years to come—fallout for the community involved be damned.
But wait! Lest anyone questions how
much little YouTube actually cares about or respects its LGBTQIA Creators and community, they were kind enough to spell it our faces recently when a specific instance of their hypocrisy made news headlines. [ Top ]
Maza vs Crowder vs YouTube (2019)
In May of this year Carlos Maza, a journalist at Vox, called YouTube to task for allowing right-wing TV host & personality Steven Crowder to personally harass him on the platform for years. Maza accused the host of Louder With Crowder, a political commentary show on Blaze TV, of regularly mocking him for being gay and Latinx, which has resulted in additional harassment from Crowder’s fans and even a doxxing attempt.
In his thread of tweets, Maza makes it clear that his issue lies not with Crowder himself, but with YouTube. Conscious of the inevitable counter-arguments & accusations headed his way, he went out of his way to layout exactly how Crowder’s videos violated YouTube’s harassment & cyberbullying policies, stating:
I’m fucking pissed at @YouTube, which claims to support its LGBT creators, and has explicit policies against harassment and bullying: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802268 […] by refusing to enforce its anti-harassment policy, YouTube is helping incredibly powerful cyberbullies organize and target people they disagree with.— Carlos Maza via Twitter
And dear god, do I agree.
Maza’s tweets soon went viral as everyone from celebrities to politicians–and yes, even Crowder himself—commented on the situation. It was only a matter of time before Maza’s accusations against YouTube made headlines and, unfortunately, Maza found himself subject to even more harassment than before.
Five days after the original tweets, YouTube responded to Maza via Twitter stating that after an “in-depth” review of Crowder’s flagged videos, they had decided that while the language in the video was “clearly hurtful”, the videos themselves do not violate YouTube policies…
…apparently Maza screenshotting their policies and highlighting the specific clauses that had been violated, along with posting a video showing instances of said violations wasn’t enough for YouTube to act upon its own policies when it involves one of their star Creators. It takes a campaign of the likes of 4chan to act as if it cares about the well being of its LGBTQIA Creators—and even then, said action only comes in the form of disabling its own comments section.
Oh wait, I take that back.
Given enough negative media coverage, pushback from prominent figures & even its own employees, AND an open letter from the Editor-in-Chief of a large media outlet, YouTube miiiiight eventually, maybe, possibly, backpedal and demonetize the offensive videos/channel.
But can demonetization (with the added option of remonetization) be considered actual enforcement of its policies? Even if so, it sure as hell couldn’t be considered effective, nor does it show any actual understanding of / concern for the issue(s) faced by the person(s) on the receiving end of the harassment. Especially not when YouTube penalizes LGBTQIA Creators for more minor offenses in the exact same way (demonetization) and continues to do nothing—oftentimes not even demonetize—in response to videos and entire channels which exist solely to profit financially from attacking, degrading, parodying and spoofing individual LGBTQIA Creators and /or their content.
But wait. I’m getting to that. [ Top ]
※ Demoneiti$ation & Censorship
Demonetisation of individual videos and entire channels has been a prominent issue for YouTube and Creators since at least 2016 with the advent of the first of what both the media and Creators alike ever so tongue-in-cheekly refers to as “Adpocolypse”.
For those unfamiliar with the term or the events it refers to, an adpocolypse refers to instances when major companies have suddenly boycotted & withdrawn advertising from YouTube for reasons both political and ethical. Somewhat confusingly, it’s also used to refer to times when YouTube has decided—often without any advanced notice to Creators—to sweepingly demonetize videos across its platform.
And almost always what triggers an adpocolypse are changes that YouTube makes to its policies, community guidelines, and/or algorithm.
Like the search engine of its parent company, Google, YouTube employs an advanced, dynamic set of rules, processes, and machine-learning tools to automatically check and control videos that are uploaded onto its platform. This algorithm both influences and controls every aspect of users’ interaction with the site—from what videos Creators are allowed to upload, to what videos users are allowed to view, and where/when/how one is able to find and view said videos.
As YouTube is always quick to point out, the algorithm and its policies/guidelines are always changing. While those changes are always presented as being an improvement, time and experience show that that isn’t always (and often hasn’t been) the case. [ Top ]
In 2016/2017, the first adpocalypse hit YouTube when many major companies & brands withdrew ads from the platform as the one of YouTube’s biggest stars at the time, PewDiePie, made headlines for his anti-semitic, racist, and otherwise offensive content. For obvious reasons, companies/brands did not (do not) want their ads to appear on or be associated with content that they deem damaging to their image.
In a bid to appease advertisers and parents alike, YouTube began actively moving towards restricting content that was not “advertiser-friendly” & raising the bar with regards to what channels could place ads in their videos. While the idea of making YouTube safer for children was & is a good one, the execution of it could be described as ill-planned at best. The sweeping changes to its policies & algorithm that YouTube made in order to effect such changes with its revamped Restricted Mode left certain channels and content completely removed from dashboards and search results, demonetized / limitedly monetized, and/or “restricted” regardless of whether the content in question was actually meant for “mature” audiences or not.
Most noticeably, a lot of the content that appeared to be automatically restricted and/or demonetized pertained to such subject matter as: sex education, mental health, race/ethnicity, and LGBTQIA identity/experiences. Or in other words, topics which in and of themselves are not inherently (nor exclusively) for adults. Topics about which young people often turn to the internet for self-education precisely because adults and societies at large refuse to acknowledge them as human beings who need access to information about sex, mental health issues, racial issues, sexual health issues, and queer community + content just as surely as adults do.
But alas, I digress.
LGBTQIA identities, histories, and issues have a long fraught history of being viewed as inherently perverse, immoral, sexual, or otherwise “adult” in nature, which in turn has lead to systematic erasure and censorship of our people and our stories that continues to this day. YouTube as a platform has long since been a vehicle by which LGBTQIA people have been able to tell our own stories, educate and support one another, preserve and share our histories, and more. While YouTube has never served as an ideal platform for any of these things, one would think that a company that champions itself as an ally & supporter of the community would do better than systematically flagging LGBTQIA content as not “advertiser/family-friendly”, further perpetuating that same, tired hypersexualization and immorality of LGBTQIA people and our work.
The assumption that LGBTQIA content does not belong in Restricted Mode or YouTube Kids is founded upon the assumption that LGBTQIA children/youth either don’t exist or don’t have the same right to information that their non-LGBTQIA peers do—and indeed, more readily have access to.
Limited Monetization & Anti-LGBT Ads
As a small “YouTuber” or Creator, riding out wave after wave of adpocalypse affects me differently than I suspect they do bigger Creators, as I don’t really stand to make (or lose) any real source of income from my channel either way. Regardless of that, major companies suddenly withdrawing their advertisements from YouTube as a whole does markedly affect LGBTQIA Creators as a whole differently than it does other Creators on the platform.
You see, among the many changes that YouTube has made over the years in an attempt to appease advertisers and attract them back to their platform is tweaking their algorithm in such a way as to give advertisers more control over the videos that their ads appear on/in. This is an entirely understandable move on YouTube/Google’s part, of course. What company would want their ads played before videos with extremist content or any other content that goes against their mission/beliefs? It makes sense that advertisers would want their brand to only be associated with content that is so-called “family-friendly.”
Having said that, the control that advertisers have been given are still reliant upon the same faulty algorithm that flags LGBTQIA-related content as being “not family-friendly” and “inappropriate for most advertisers”, meaning that intentional or not, many advertisers have opted to not have their ads placed on LGBTQIA-related videos.
As a result, many LGBTQIA Creators find their videos to have “limited monetization“ if not outright demonetized. However, when your pool of potential advertisers is already small to begin with and the advertisers who otherwise would have placed ads on your videos decide to boycott YouTube for reasons unrelated to your video, limited monetization is essentially no different from demonetization. Regardless of that, YouTube can use the fact that many LGBTQIA videos still have limited monetization as rebuttal against claims of discrimination against LGBTQIA Creators because, in their eyes, they aren’t.
“So what recourse do Creators have when they believe that a video was wrongfully demonetized / limited in monetization?” Asked no one ever, but let’s pretend you did.
Creators have the option of appealing YouTube’s decision by requesting that YouTube manually review the video and reconsider its decision to de/limit monetization. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Except that the prerequisite for said review is that the video in question receives at least 1,000 views within a month of the appeal request. Should the video never meet that threshold, the video will not be reviewed and the algorithm’s decision to demonetize or limit monetization stands.
For small Creators whose video(s) may never meet that 1,000 view threshold during its/their entire life on the platform, let alone within a month, this essentially means that the Creator will never have their video(s) reviewed. Even for small Creators who do have more of a following, when the demonetization hammer strikes on a video after it’s already been live for an extended period of time—past its “golden hour” after which views substantially begin to wane—even if the video has been viewed over 1,000 times, the video may still be unlikely receive the additional 1,000 views needed to meet the threshold for review.
And that’s not even taking into account that after going through the appeal process, the person who reviews your video may still decide that your video is not advertiser/family-friendly, after which there is no further means of appeal.
“But wait! Limited ads are still better than no ads, right?”, I hear you say. To which I’d reply, “Sure.” Except that while advertisers have control over where their ads appear, Creators continue to have zero control over what ads appear on their videos. And when ‘limited ads’ has the potential of meaning ‘ads that debate your existence’ or ‘ads by companies with questionable motives/history ‘, as has been the case, I’m inclined to disagree.
Over the years, YouTubers across the board have received a lot of negativity from their own communities & audience for “selling out” and for making any kind of noise about demonetization. As Gaby Dunn—half of the duo behind the channel Just Between Us and the one-person podcast “Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn”—put it:
Every time Allison and I post a branded video—a YouTuber’s bread and butter—we make money but lose subscribers. A video we created for a skincare line, for instance, drew ire from fans writing “ENOUGH WITH THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT,” despite this being our third branded video ever. One dismissively chided us, “Gotta get that YouTube money, I guess” with no acknowledgment of the two years of free videos we’d released prior. Another told us they hated ads because they had “high expectations of us.”“Get Rich or Die Vlogging: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame” (Splinter News) by Gabby Dunn
While some may be using YouTube as their claim-to-fame, not all Creators are. Regardless of whether they are or not, many Creators share the same sense of responsibility to their audience/followers and fall prey to the same “starving artist vs sellout” paradigm that many artists do. That is, in order to “make it” on YouTube, they are expected to do whatever they can selflessly without asking anything of their audience or their platform and without ‘airing their dirty laundry’ by talking about their 9-to-5 job, time & effort spent making their videos, unfair treatment on behalf of the platform which hosts them, and/or monetary needs—despite all of these things being vital to their continued ability to do what they’re doing without starving like artists so commonly do.
Which is partly why some were surprised and even scoffed at the news of a group of eight (8) LGBTQIA Creators filing a class-action lawsuit against YouTube for discrimination. The other part of said surprise and scoffing is, of course, because people have been (and continue to be) ignorant of the situation of LGBTQIA people on YouTube and see the lawsuit as a response to a one-off or platform-wide problem.
If you’ve read this far into this post, I can only hope that you are not among those people. I really do not feel like writing an entire separate post on what’s wrong with comments such as those in the screenshot on the left. However, if you are among such people, please go watch @BriaAndChrissy‘s response to these comments, read research which shows the bias of YouTube’s algorithm, and/or reread this entire post. Again.
While I have no part in this lawsuit personally, at the time of its announcement it was impossible not to see the greater YouTube community’s response to it on my YouTube dashboard in the form of response videos, parody videos, and personal attacks that have been made about/against the plaintiffs. While I have no doubt that they saw such things coming—it’s impossible not to when the most prominent LGBTQIA Creators get parody & commentary videos made about them to the tune of thousands of likes + AdSense revenue on the regular—it’s still dismaying to see other Creators be spiteful because eight creators are fighting for their rights as opposed to fighting for the rights of everyone on the platform.
Having said that, it was only a matter of time before news of the lawsuit was to be overshadowed by yet another shitstorm of negative press headlines featuring the online video-streaming giant. [ Top ]
※ FTC & COPPA
The trainwreck that has been YouTube’s attempt at making its platform “family-friendly” had an underlying instigator that some were unaware of until a couple of weeks ago when YouTube made headlines again, this time owing to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issuing YouTube/Google a record-breaking fine of $170 million for violating children’s privacy laws by collecting data from children under 13 years for targeted advertising.
The Federal Trade Commission and COPPA
For those unfamiliar with it, the FTC is an American federal agency tasked with the mission of protecting consumers and competition in the marketplace—which includes enforcing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) law which was enacted in 1998. While the FTC is an American federal agency and YouTube/Google is a multinational company, the effects of COPPA and the FTC’s settlement with YouTube/Google will reverberate across the platform and affect all channels/videos regardless of where Creators are based.
On November 12th, 2019 YouTube uploaded a video telling Creators how to comply with COPPA, as well as introducing changes that would be made to YouTube effective January 2020. In typical YouTube fashion, the six-minute video called on Creators to make changes to their settings based on vague-at-best information about what constitutes “Made for Kids” content, furthermore telling Creators to consult a lawyer for legal advice if they had additional questions.
The FTC issued a statement to YouTube channel owners a week later that wasn’t any more helpful with its equally vague wordage and examples (see here under Appendix B, pages B-1 & B-2 for the best gems), which suggest that channels/videos which employ animation, video games, arts & crafts, family vlogging, and more are at risk of being penalized by the FTC.
Obviously, many Creators are upset & confused over recent developments. No matter how much we personally may agree with the need to protect the privacy of children and try to educate ourselves about the situation, the stakes are ridiculous high for content Creators, thanks in no small part to YouTube/Google itself. [ Top ]
Bottom Line: YouTube Couldn’t Care Less
It’s an understatement to say that the recent settlement between the FTC & YouTube/Google has been a long-time coming. For years, YouTube has hidden behind the claim that doesn’t violate COPPA due to requiring its users be 13 years or older in its Terms of Service, despite knowing full well that many viewers (be they registered as ‘users’ or not) are under that age and in fact banking off of it in more ways than one. YouTube’s parent company, Google, is arguably The Monarch of Algorithms and as such, there should be no doubt that they knew exactly what they were doing as they mined data from underage users for the purposes of targeted advertisement.
Despite this, in the settlement hearing with the FTC, YouTube’s main defense seemed to be to claim that its role in the COPPA violation is nothing more than that of being the host to content & user settings that lies in offense to the COPPA, laying the burden of compliance with COPPA squarely on the shoulders of individual Creators. So while YouTube/Google was indeed slapped with a $170 million fine and the requirement of “develop[ing], implement[ing], and maintain[ing] a system for Channel Owners to designate whether their Content on the YouTube Service is directed to Children”, as of January 2020 it’ll be Creators who will tried as business owners and stare down the barrel of a $42k fine per video should they mislabel their video/channel and get flagged by the flawed algorithm & binary labeling system of “Made for Kids” vs “not Made for Kids”.
Consequences: More Than ‘Just’ Money
YouTube has given its Creators until December 10th to implement its new ‘Made for Kids’ settings across their entire channel—both retroactively across older videos and going forward with new videos. Furthermore, YouTube reserves the right to change a Creator’s settings should they feel that your settings are incorrect. Any changes on the part of YouTube are not disputable.
The threat of $42k in fines per video should Creators misinterpret or fail to understand whether their video is considered “Made for Kids” in the FTC’s eyes aside, there are added consequences to Creators should they comply and mark their video as being “Made for Kids”:
- Disabled interactive features (comments section, likes/dislikes, etc)
- Disabled end screens & cards
- Disabled notifications to subscribers
- Disabled “Community” tab on channels
- Advertisement restricted by 60% – 90%
- Video no longer searchable
- Video no longer featured anywhere across the platform
Or in other words, YouTube has decided to simultaneously
screw over disincentivize Creators who actually do make content aimed at children from continuing to exist on its platform, as well as punish any kid-friendly Creators who do persevere and stick around in spite of:
- having had any monetary compensation they receive for their time/effort/money throttled
- having their content made undiscoverable
- having had the feedback that they would have otherwise received from audience engagement and subsequently used to improve their channel curtailed
As for the rest of us? YouTube and the FTC’s black & white treatment of whether a video/channel is “Made for Kids” might have you think that “the rest of us” means those of us whose content is not made for kids.
But you know what?
Oftentimes Sometimes—just sometimes—content is neither made explicitly for kids, nor explicitly for adults. Just sometimes Oftentimes content is made for general enjoyment and/or educational purposes without regard to age. Creators now run the risk of a $42k fine should a video that was not explicitly made for kids go viral or become widely viewed among kids, regardless of the Creator’s intent. This includes everything from video game playthroughs, Steven Universe fan videos, and anything else that falls into FTC’s vague “for kids” categorization in spite of adults’ equal enjoyment of these things.
Needless to say, there is a lot more to be said about the problematic and inexplicitly negative effects of YouTube’s “Yes/No” approach to “Made for Kids” content on its platform; covering all of it would render this post several times longer than it already is. Having said all that, I do want to return to the main purpose of this post—that is, to the unique relevance of all this for LGBTQIA people.
Because goddamn, the general tone-deafness of the FTC and YouTube with regards to the ongoing problem of LGBTQIA censorship & demonetization on YouTube is high-key frustrating and I have yet to see anyone else explicitly discuss this? [ Top ]
YouTube, COPPA, & the LGBTQIA Community
It goes without saying that COPPA and YouTube’s handling of it affects every video, every channel, and every Creator on YouTube—which in turn means that it affects each and every one of you as a viewer of said videos/content.
Which is not to say that every video, every channel, every Creator, and indeed, every viewer will be equally affected by these changes—because they won’t be. And contrary to what some people claim, pointing out that fact and focusing on the specific problems faced by LGBTQIA people—as this post strives to do—is not ignoring or belittling the problems that others face.
If there’s one thing that I hope you, the reader, will take away from this post, it’s that YouTube’s relationship with LGBTQIA communities has long since been fraught. Fraught in a way that isn’t necessarily worse than other groups on the platform, but in a way that presents unique challenges & frustrations to its LGBTQIA Creators and Viewers.
As mentioned above, there is a long history of LGBTQIA content being treated as inherently “mature” content that is not suitable for young audiences, regardless of the fact that some of that very same type of content would not be treated as such were it not for “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual, “trans”, “queer”, “intersex”, “asexual”, etc being among the keywords or hashtags associated with the video. Despite these words and the topics that they refer to becoming increasingly less stigmatized in recent years, YouTube’s (Google’s) algorithm—the brain and arguably heart of the platform—is slower to learn and continues to red-flag LGBTQIA content, which in turn flags content as being inappropriate for “most advertisers”, children, et cetera.
As part of YouTube’s settlement with the FTC, it has agreed to utilize its powerful (but faulty) machine-learning algorithm to assist with systematic enforcement of COPPA across its platform.
In other words, the very same algorithm that has been biased towards flagging LGBTQIA content for years now is now being enlisted as the guard dog of the FTC, and unlike in the past when Creators had the ability to dispute demonetization, this time Creators will have little recourse to defend themselves against a fine(s) that could very well send them into bankruptcy, let alone mean the death of their channel.
A cacophony of factors have long since landed certain content on YouTube in a so-called “gray area” in terms of monetization & censorship and YouTube’s LGBTQIA community has long since vocalized our frustration with how YouTube has chosen to handle the situation. With the FTC now involved, failure on the part of YouTube to take into consideration things like socioeconomic factors involved in who accesses—and in fact, needs YouTube in order to access—certain kinds of content is an even bigger grievance for me than ever. Moreover, the added failure to consider how [ cis / hetero / amato / sex ] normativity inherently biases algorithms—machine-learning or not—and even the FTC’s own judgment of what constitutes “Made for Kids” speaks to the larger societal problem of repercussions faced by those who deviate from societal norms.
As a so-called “YouTuber” whose entire channel is focused on subject matter that some would deem ‘for mature audiences only’, I can honestly say that I have never once explicitly considered any of my videos to be targeted at kids—especially when “kids” is defined as being 12 years or younger. Having said that, there is one video on my channel that is explicitly directed at young people:
While there is no shortage of videos on my channel that have been branded “inappropriate for most advertisers” (and presumably children), if anything on my channel put me at risk of receiving a $42k fine from the FTC, I can only imagine it’d be this.
Is it targeted at / made for / or directed at “kids”? Sure.
That said, the above video—like every other video on my channel—has been uploaded to my channel with the intention of making its contents accessible to whoever may need it. If I felt that something that I was putting out into the black hole that is the internet should be age-restricted, of course, I would take whatever steps necessary to enact that age restriction. I hope that it’s not terribly optimistic of me to assume that the same could be said of most Creators on YouTube. However, aside from random swearing—because that’s literally just how I talk?—I fail to see why this video would be inappropriate for people 12 and under who presumably would only find the video because it was relevant to their search.
So what do I do, then? Do I err on the side of caution and mark it as not being “Made for Kids”, thus making it inaccessible to young people who may find it helpful? Do I label it “Made for Kids” only to risk it being flagged otherwise? In labeling it “Made for Kids”, not only would the video be rendered virtually undiscoverable, the comments section—one of the best things about the video—would be removed. From my point of view, this is a lose/lose situation for me and anyone who would view this video.
It is flat out unreasonable to require Creators to tick a “Yes/No” box regarding whether their content is ‘Made for Kids’ when both YouTube & the FTC know full well that:
- Intended Audience =/= Actual Audience
- YouTube has far more influence & control over a video’s reach and audience than the Creator does.
- A Creator ticking “Yes” is liable to be overturned & punished with any mention of LGBTQIA issues, racism, mental illness, neurodivergence, or any other subject matter deemed “mature”.
YouTube’s new system not only puts the onus of censorship onto LGBTQIA Creators ourselves (as well as onto Creators in general), it stands to punish us even more severely than in years past if we fail to censor something that we do not agree ought to be censored—and then doesn’t even afford us any means of self-defense without a lawyer.
When others—machine or human—take it upon themself to decide for us that our content ought to be age-restricted and that decision follows a proven trend of unjust censorship of an entire group of people and their storytelling—oral preservation of their history—and outlet for support & community? Deprives certain youth access to information & support that their peers more readily have access to—all under the guise of “protecting” them…?
Regardless of the fact that neither the FTC nor YouTube may have set out to prevent certain youth from being able to access information & support that could help them better understand themselves & the world they live in; regardless of the fact that this particular instance of censorship is being applied indiscriminately across the entirety of YouTube:
This latest attempt at censorship is but another straw on the back of a community that has had to shoulder far too many as it is and not all of our backs are as resilient as others’. Nor should they have to be. [ Top ]
Without question, children’s privacy must be protected. Few people would attempt to refute that fact, and yet it’s safe to say that children’s privacy has never been a priority for YouTube/Google or else we wouldn’t be in the midst of this #COPPApocalypse that we find ourselves in today.
And when it comes to the blow that the COPPA/YouTube settlement will have on LGBTQIA communities, the FTC’s hands are as dirty as YouTube’s for knowingly settling on a plan of action that rides upon an algorithm and a company with documented bias against a community that has been fighting for its right to be indiscriminately monetizable and viewable by children for years now. If the FTC did actually care about children’s rights beyond the status quo, they would also care about the rights of children to access potentially life-saving information and (at the very least) be cognizant of the fact that LGBTQIA content (both on YouTube and in general) is often misconstrued as being for “adult audiences” purely owing to being LGBT-related.
And yet I have not seen anything that suggests they do care about or understand these things.
So yeah, I’m scared.
The FTC has decided to go along with YouTube’s claim that its sole role in this whole situation is that of a host or curator, in spite of the fact that YouTube’s influence on its own site permeates literally every single facet of it—from incentivizing video uploads, monetization, & growth on its platform to implementing an algorithm that is literally the ticking heart of its platform. And lest anyone forget that the entity who is actually mining and storing children’s data is YouTube/Google, NOT Creators, and yet it’s Creators who are going to be held directly responsible for undermining children’s privacy…?
Meanwhile, YouTube and Google, on the other hand, will continue to host booths at Pride events, march in Pride parades, receive LGBT-related grants, host “Pride Academies”, and otherwise brand itself/themselves as being an ally to LGBTQIA communities around the world. Or perhaps I should say, as if they were a selfless ally rather than a problematic one that wrongs its own LGBTQIA employees; one with a give-and-take relationship with the LGBTQIA communities that they promote themselves as [selflessly] supporting.
Like all pinkwashed corporations, they stand to profit from aligning themselves with LGBTQIA communities. However, that alone does not forfeit them their role as an ally. At least, not in my book. That, alongside a host of other grievances that I have with the companies, simply makes them a Problematic Pink Capitalist Piece of Shit Ally in my book, but an ally nonetheless.
While they do stand to gain the most out of a relationship with our communities, LGBTQIA people/communities also stand to gain from said relationship as well. For example, I can honestly say that the first-of-its-kind-in-Japan Pride Academy that I attended at YouTube Space Tokyo in 2017 did benefit Japan’s underdeveloped community of LGBT Creators. Having said that, like any relationship, that relationship can become toxic and/or abusive.
And at this point, I’m about ready to call my own personal relationship with YouTube the former. And dare I say that YouTube’s relationship with its LGBTQIA Creators and community is the latter?
YouTube itself may not be Over; as the multi-million dollar subsidiary of one of the world’s biggest conglomerates, I doubt that it will ever be Over until its parent company decides that it is. Regardless, I think that it is safe to say that the heyday of YouTube—whatever that means to you, regardless of what it means to me personally—is or will be Over as of January 2020.
And as a Creator who has uploaded snippets of their life to this platform since 2006, I have yet to decide what that means to me, but fuck yes am I joining in on this #YouTubeIsOverParty.
Update 12/20/2019: YouTube recently released another video titled “COPPA and YouTube: Answering Your Top Questions” that addresses some of the biggest questions that had been circulating around the net in the aftermath of their first video, including some which were raised in this blog post. They also recently unveiled updates to their harassment policy. The policy updates were posted while I was in the process of writing this post, shortly before posting it.
While I’ll believe the policy updates when I see them actually being acted upon, I am appreciative of YouTube’s effort. Even if it’s come ridiculously later than it should have; I also appreciate them reaching out to the FTC for further clarification, although I am still skeptical of their claim to be making those efforts on behalf of Creators because they’re ‘on our side’.
Either way, many of the LGBTQIA-specific concerns that I posed in this post still stand, but I feel at least a little less scared of personally being fined $42k… So ‘yay!’ for the little things.